Welcome back to the 180th episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today’s podcast is Ryan Inman. Ryan is the founder of Physician Wealth Services, an independent RIA based in San Diego that serves over 140 physician clients. What’s unique about Ryan, though, is the way he’s gone all in on the niche of serving physicians to the point of renaming his advisory firm, launching a “Financial Residency” podcast, and restructuring his entire financial planning process into ‘inpatient’ and ‘outpatient’ services, to the point that now in his fifth year of business, he’s adding more clients every month than he added in his entire first year as a generalist.
In this podcast, we talk in-depth about how Ryan chose the niche of working with physicians, the mindset shift he had to go through to get comfortable narrowing the focus of his practice, how going to the FinCon Financial Bloggers Conference gave him the inspiration to actually market to and reach his niche, and how he has ultimately found that having a focused niche is making it easier to market because you don’t actually need to reach a lot of people to get new clients when your niche marketing is focused.
We also talk about Ryan’s financial planning services themselves. His unique fee structure of charging clients either $500 a month or $833 a month (those are his only two options), the unique expertise in student loan planning he had to develop to really serve his niche effectively, what he does for his clients upfront and on an ongoing basis to earn those monthly fees, and why Ryan ultimately had to go outside of traditional financial planning software and to use tools like YNAB to actually help his clients in the areas that they needed advice most.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Ryan talks about the importance of having your own financial foundation set before you launch your own firm and why he waited almost two extra years before going out on his own. Why even though Ryan is glad he waited to launch his firm, he regrets not focusing into a niche earlier on, and how if he could do it over again, the only thing he’d really change is finding a business partner sooner rather than later, because, in the end, it can be pretty lonely launching an independent advisory firm from scratch.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- How Ryan Chose The Physician Niche [00:05:17]
- What He Is Doing To Bring In So Many New Clients Every Month [00:24:04]
- Why Having A Focus Niche Makes It Easier To Market [00:38:09]
- Ryan’s Unique Fee Structure [01:20:04]
- The Specific Planning He Had To Develop To Serve His Niche Effectively [01:25:14]
- The Surprises and Low Points In Ryan’s Journey And Why He Regrets Not Focusing On A Niche Early On [01:44:53]
- How Ryan Defines Success For Himself [01:55:09]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Ryan Inman
- Physician Wealth Services
- Financial Residency
- Book: “Financial Residency: Create Your Financial Plan Without the Long Hours or Sleepless Nights”
- Loan Buddy
- XY Planning Network
- Sarah Fallaw
- Steve Stewart Podcast Editing
- Desiree: DL Pro Writing
- TD Ameritrade Institutional
- Tiller Money
- Using Tiller Money For Cash Flow Tracking And Budgeting With Clients
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Michael: Welcome, Ryan Inman, to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Ryan: Hello, sir. Thank you for having me on. It’s going to be super fun.
Michael: I’m really excited about the discussion today and getting to talk a little bit about niches, which, granted, is a theme we do touch on with some regularity on the podcast but I feel like you have gone deeper and have focused more than a lot of other advisors of really going all in on a niche. I remember when you were going out to launch the firm in its current state a number of years ago and were talking about like, “Should I really do this niche thing? Is it going to work? I’m not sure.” And now you are all in and having lots of growth and just having fun, even just browsing around your website and all the ways that I can see very clearly it is built to speak to your niche audience of working with physicians.
So I’m excited to talk about this evolution of a niche and what happens when you decide like, “Okay, I think I’m going to go for it.” And then you start doing things to go down that niche road and find where it takes you. So I feel like it seems to be even for you an evolving journey of quite what you’re doing with this focus.
Ryan: Yeah, we change things, I feel like, daily. We’re trying new things. And maybe that’s the “Ooh! Shiny object!” syndrome that I kind of have, where I want to test and keep helping people as much as I possibly can, and changing up the podcast or doing something different in a Facebook group or just even offering a potential new service because we get asked enough for it. We’re constantly evolving and changing.
But yeah, in the very beginning, Michael, it was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying, right? Coming out with no book of business, no contacts, no idea how to market, no email list, nothing. And getting to launch and launching with XYPN. As I said ahead of time, I owe a lot to XYPN. I get frustrated sometimes with XYPN, but I owe a lot to XYPN because it helped me understand the power of a niche, but what I also think is the greatest gift, is I was able to find my partner in business, not my wife, but my partner in business, Kayse Kress, who was an XY Planning member, who we were introduced via an XY Planning member, and now she’s a partner here and absolutely like the foundation from how we’re building more success because she’s amazing.
How Ryan Chose The Physician Niche [00:05:17]
Michael: So I think to get us started, just paint a picture for us of the advisory firm as it exists today. Like, what is the firm? What do you do? Who do you serve?
Ryan: Yeah. So we’re obviously a fee-only financial planning firm. I’m in San Diego. We’re technically headquartered here. Kayse, who I just mentioned, my partner, is out of Connecticut. So she’s on the wrong coast. In case anyone needed clarification there. We’re a full virtual firm. We have a life planner that works with us, which we can dive into that more detail if you’d like. We have two other people that work with us that are more admin/back office. One of them is going to be a junior advisor, hopefully, this year. And then we serve physicians, specifically MDs and DOs. So we don’t work with dentists or nurses. Even more specialized, right, in healthcare, is just a physician an MD or DO? And we work with them all across the country. So this is really what we set out to do, is just provide the best education, the best platform, the best advice that we can for that specific audience.
Michael: I feel like a lot of advisors over the years have said like, “Well, I work with doctors.” I think that was one of the early niches for advisors because it does tend to be a higher income-producing profession. A lot of doctors, maybe more so in the past, owned their own medical practices and were small business owners as well. So they just tended to have a lot of the income and affluence that meant they had financial issues, financial complexity, needed to hire financial advisors, and therefore, we had advisors who said, “Well, yeah, I specialize in working with doctors.” But I am still struck that just I’ve seen advisors that say they work with doctors, I come and look at your website, which, not coincidentally, is called Physician Wealth Services, and I feel like what I see on your website looks completely different than what I see from other advisors who say, “I work with doctors.”
Ryan: Yeah, I think part of that’s because I’m married to a doctor. So I get the terminology because I’m forced to get the terminology, if you will. We’ve been together 18 years now. Yeah, I think really, it’s that I’m friends with doctors. I’m married to a doctor. We only work with doctors. The message that we portray is that we are experts in this because this is all we do. I don’t hang out with architects. I don’t hang out with engineers. This is something that we truly focus on.
I know the pains and joys of being in medicine or married to medicine because I literally live it every single day. So I think some of the terminology that comes through… Michael, I got caught at FinCon last year by someone that was like, “I’m confused, are you a doctor that turned advisor or are you a financial…like, how does that work?” And I was kind of taken back because I’m like, “I’m too terrified of blood! So definitely not a doctor.”
Michael: Definitely on the advisor side, not on the doctor side.
Ryan: Definitely a money nerd, not an actual physician. I don’t even pretend to be one. But I thought that was interesting because I speak the lingo so well, and it’s just because I’m around it, and I just know what they’re going through because I live that. So as we set off to really switch this marketing, if you will, from a website standpoint, that was something that was really important to me, is to make sure that they felt like they were home.
Michael: Well, I’m struck just all the way through. Like, people can go to look at the website. This is episode 180. If you go to kitces.com/180, we’ll have links out to Ryan’s website. I’m struck even just like on the homepage just outright says like, “We are a service tailored to physicians. It could be helpful to understand financial planning as it relates to systems of the body.” And you’ve got what are basically medical drawings of like the digestive system and says like, “This is like budgeting and cash flow,” and the cardiovascular system like, “This is like your investments,” and the renal system, “This is your debt; if you can’t excrete it and get it out, this isn’t going to go well for you. And your insurance is your immune system.” Just the way that you connected…
Ryan: Oh, you can’t forget the reproductive system, Michael.
Michael: What was that?
Ryan: The reproductive system, you can’t forget it, right? The reproductive system
Michael: And the reproductive system is your college savings.
Ryan: Yeah, there you go. Got to be super-ready if we go in like that.
Michael: And obviously, to me, on the one hand, it’s not rocket science to make some of these parallels. They’re kind of straightforward for what they are. But to me, it’s one of the interesting things that happens when you really take a deliberate focus on saying, “Here’s who we focus on, here’s what we’re doing,” is you get to start just framing everything in a way that speaks to your target audience.
I know you describe your services as, “First, we diagnose, then we prescribe.” So like a bunch of meetings about understanding clients’ needs and goals, and then making recommendations to implement. But you call it “our diagnostic stage and our prescription stage.” And you get a financial health assessment at the end because these are doctors and this is the kind of thing that fits for them. Just I’m so struck by it that this is what happens when you get really specific on a particular type of clientele.
Like, it’s not that we don’t necessarily all as advisors do these areas like budgeting, cash flow, and investments and insurance and debt management and college savings, and we all have a process where we get client’s goals and then we give them planning recommendations. Ultimately, some of the stuff may be the same. But it does strike me of, if I’m a physician and I’m coming here, just that phenomenon of like, “Ryan talks my language and just puts things in terms that I understand,” because you put it in medical terms. That’s what they live. So that’s what they understand.
Just to me, it so rings through even down to like, “As your primary financial care specialist, we do semiannual checkups,” right, because this is language for physicians. That I feel like from our end, sometimes advisors, we think these things sound, I don’t know, maybe hokey, of putting language in those terms, but when that’s actually targeted for you…to me, your site just kind of screams, as you said from your conversation at FinCon, like, “This guy lives doctors and gets doctors. He’s one of us. He’s not literally a former doctor, he’s clearly part of our tribe. This is who I want to work with if I’m a doctor.”
Ryan: Yeah, we’ve gone even as far as like naming…so in our ADV, it says “inpatient planning, outpatient planning.” We actually still stick to that. And some people are like, “That’s just cheesy. Like, I’m not going to do that.” That’s totally cool. You’re not the target audience. But the audience that comes here goes, “Oh, I get the difference between inpatient and outpatient,” or, “I get the difference between the systems of the body. And I didn’t realize that my immune system was like insurance, but now that connection is made.” And the more connections we make, the higher probability of success that they’re actually not only going to understand their plan, but they’re also actually going to implement the plan.
And I try to keep that theme, that conversation the whole time, right? I say like, “Short of the overnight shift, we’re on call.” Right? So we don’t have typical hours. And that’s okay with us because we prioritize…truthfully I prioritize spending time with my kids. I do – well, in non-pandemic times, I should say, right? – I’m doing the breakfast, getting them ready, taking them to school. I make sure I’m the one that picks them up from school. I spend time with them in the afternoon. The bulk of our meetings happen between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. So I can work on the business stuff during the day while they’re there, I can spend some time with them. And then I have client meetings at night that are at a time that helps them the most.
And part of this is, and I know you allude to the iceberg, right, is if you only look and say, “Well, I’m only going to be meeting with clients at a certain period of time,” there’s still a lot of work that has to be done. So on the surface, people see, “Oh, you do X number of hours. How is he doing that?” But then, in reality, there’s a whole bunch of work that goes in behind it to get us to where we’re at. And the team and my partner, Kayse, they are absolutely phenomenal. Without them, this wouldn’t be as successful as it is, and onboarding and helping as many clients as we can.
Coming back to the beginning, Michael, when I launched in 2016, it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t this niche focus. I didn’t understand marketing, but I was terrified to actually call it a niche. I wanted to work with physicians. And when we actually met in, what was it, September, October, whenever XYPN was, and I sat you down. I said, “Hey, I just launched. This is what it is.” Looking at my current clientele, I only had eight clients in the first year. That was it. It was very slim. And this is something that people need to understand, that if you’re starting your own practice, it doesn’t happen overnight. But all eight of them were physicians, even though my website didn’t say anything about physicians, the name didn’t say anything like…that was just who I naturally kind of was pulling in. And sometimes the niche finds you and sometimes you find the niche.
So when we’re talking about like a bunch of advisors that say they work with doctors, well, are they working with doctors because… And I tell them all the time, just on the podcast, like, the financial industry isn’t your friend. A lot of people listening are great people and excellent planners, but most people understand that physicians are super high income earning and have zero financial training. So they have a giant target on their back. And I’m not saying that people listening are like this at all. But it’s, do you actually work with them because you love every aspect of what they do and who they are and understand their personalities? Or are you working with them because they make decent money and you can charge decent fees and provide a great service to them? Or would you better be served finding a different niche that you truly are passionate about, that you live and breathe that niche, and you’re reading their publications, you’re deep into what they have going on?
It’s fascinating to see with the pandemic and just being so consumed with physicians, that we’re seeing a lot of uprising with the physician community about how poorly they’re treated, and the lack of PPP and the lack of leadership. And this is something that I read because I enjoy it and it deals with 100% of our clientele, not 30% of our clientele.
Michael: Talk to us about what switched and changed. You said you launched in 2016. You weren’t that niche-focused. You ground out eight clients in the first year. Because it’s pretty brutal for almost everyone in the first year. Turns out all eight of them were physicians. You’re still terrified to call it a niche, though.
What changed? Like, was there a moment? Was there a transition? Was there like a Eureka inspiration moment? What switched for you from, “I got started and I was terrified to call it a niche” to, “Now I’m all in on this thing?”
Ryan: The most honest, direct answer is I got out of my own way. I think that’s the truth. I was terrified to change a bunch of stuff over to make it physician-focused, to do the website. This is the third edition, by the way, of the website. This isn’t the first edition. This is a third rebuild of the website. Most advisors slap together a website themself because you’re bootstrapping it, which is what I did in the beginning. And then I hired a professional to do the second one. And then I hired another professional to do it this third time to keep defining what I want and what works, what doesn’t work. But I essentially just said, “I’ve got to go all in. And if this doesn’t work, I can always switch. I can always fix it later. But this is who I want to work with.” This is what I wanted to do.
At the previous advisor I worked with, I told them I wanted to work with people like my wife and myself, that were early-career physicians. All of our friends kept asking me questions that were around their student debt and around just the investments that they have in their 403(b). My wife and a couple of her friends all thought the 403(b) was a scam. So they didn’t want to invest in anything, because they thought it was just…they didn’t understand.
They’ve literally never taken a finance class. My wife had like a perfect score on her ACT and a perfect score on her SAT. Like, she’s brilliant, and she has multiple publications. When we first met, it was, “Oh, I just make the minimums on my credit card because that’s what it tells me to pay.” Like, “No, no, no, please don’t do that.” Right? But that’s where they’re at. And so I said, “You know what? I’ve got to get out of my own way. I’ve got to just do this.”
And it really was that…the turning point was that XYPN conference backed up to FinCon. And I said…yeah, talking with you guys and a couple other planners that are great friends of mine to this day and said, “I’ve got to go in.” And then FinCon actually helped me understand how to do it. My clients have never been trained in finance. I never was trained in marketing or any of this stuff. But FinCon is what really helped spark that change as well, and just getting out of my own way and just doing it. And like, “I’ve got to go all in. I’ve got to see how this goes.” And even the first edition of this, I should say the second edition of the website was not that good. It was still…I’m like, kind of put my foot in the water, but I didn’t jump in. And this site now is we’ve gone jumping in with both feet.
Michael: So I’m still wondering just like, what got you to that point? Was it just like, “I’m frustrated it’s not growing enough; oh, what the heck, let’s try this,” or more of a pull of like, “I’ve had some good experiences talking to physicians, I think I’m going to go deeper and try to make this work?” As you put it, what got you to get out of your own way?
Ryan: Yeah. So eight clients is what I had in the first year. We only finished with 20-something clients in our second year. Things were still really slow. And this website that you’re currently seeing was built in the beginning of 2018. So I was basically two full years and going like, “Okay, this is kind of growing.” But again, all 20 people were physicians. So I was hitting some of that clientele. I was getting some referral from current clients, or people that would book a prospect call with me and I’d tell them like, “You’re not the best fit for us, you’re too early in your career,” or whatever it may be.
And then they might refer someone in because I told them exactly who I work with. Like, it happened twice, which is kind of weird to me in this early period, that I told someone, “I’m not the best advisor for you. Here’s another advisor.” And they went, “Oh, but my friend […insert name, Jane…] – you’d be the perfect advisor for her.” And then they would refer that person and that person would start working with me. And so that was kind of like a mini wake-up call, that like if I just tell people exactly who I want to work with, those people will show up. And it was how much…
Michael: It’s an interesting point that just when we get a referral or an introduction, I think there’s always this fear of like, “But Bob referred this person, like, I don’t want to piss off Bob by telling them no.” So I take them as an accommodation even if they’re not perfect and sort of miss. But if instead you say to them like, “Hey, I’m so sorry, I’m not quite the right fit for you, we actually work with people like this. I’ll help you find another advisor that’s a good fit, but just letting you know here’s who we actually work with that’s best.” What ends out happening, is that you still honored the referral, you still got them to a better place. And now you have yet another person who understands exactly what you do do and can actually create more referrals for you in the future, because clients, at the end of the day, tend to respect when you clearly say like, “Hey, I’m not the right fit for you. Here’s someone who is, and then here’s who’s actually a great fit for me that I can best help.”
Ryan: Yeah. So you add that to, “I really only want to work with this type of clientele.” And now I’ve got people who didn’t even pay me to help them. And I was just honest and said, “This is who I work with. This is who I don’t work with. And here’s a great advisor.” And I, of course, go to XY Planning Network, go search whatever they’re looking for, and send them a couple names they can contact. But that was only coming to me because I wasn’t clear on my business card – if you will, my website – that this is who I wanted to work with. And so that, coupled with finally starting the podcast and seeing how many people I could actually help through that form of medium, really caused and sparked the, “Hey, let’s actually jump in and just go 2 feet in and change everything around.”
Even our plans, Michael, are very different. So for physicians to meet with you as a patient, they leave and they’re going to do their notes. And they do them in a way that’s called a SOAP note, subjective, objective, assessment, and plan. And even our financial plans are built like a SOAP note. We truly cater to having them understand their finances in any way that I could talk to them and get them to make the relation between medicine, which they’re experts in and brilliant, to finances, which they’re always feeling overwhelmed. If I can make those connections any way I can, they’re going to truly have a transformation, a better outcome, if I can do that. And so that’s some of the messaging I took to put on the website. But also, we build plans that way and speak to them in that way when we’re just meeting with them.
What He Is Doing To Bring In So Many New Clients Every Month [00:24:04]
Michael: What was it that was holding you back when you’re at 20-something clients, all of whom are physicians but still afraid to say you specialize in physicians on your website?
Ryan: It was more like not knowing the marketing channels, I think, that are out there and what I should do. And I’m not the strongest of writers. I’m a technical writer, but I’m still not even the strongest of writers. And so having trouble, just sitting there, looking at the site, going, “How do I make this message sound clear? How does this really portray what I want?” That was very tough for me to even make that transition to, “Let’s address the copy on the site and do that.” So I had to have outside help to help me get my message across. And there was a cost, but that’s okay. Sometimes we have to have costs in our business that are things that we can’t do, or we can’t do very well. And part of it was just having the money to be able to afford someone that could do these things for me.
Part of it was that realization of like, “Look, if I just tell people what I actually do and what I really want to do, then more of those people will just show up.” And then as I made those changes, then it was like, “Oh, cool, well, this is actually working a little bit. Well, how do I get in front of more of these people?” And that’s where I think the story turns quite a bit to starting the podcast, a Facebook group, getting everything on the content side going, kind of turning on that engine, so to speak. And that’s where I think the trajectory went quite different than the normal typical advisory practice.
Michael: Well, that to me is one of the things that gets so fascinating about focusing into some sort of niche or specialization and being willing to own it. I feel like it’s been amplified in the pandemic environment that I see so many advisors at the end of the day saying like, “We’re ready and willing to take clients, but I don’t know where to go.” Particularly in a digital environment where networking meetings have gone away, like, “I don’t know where to go to find prospects. How do you find prospects online? Like, what do you do? What’s the online marketing strategy to make the proverbial phone ring when we can’t go out and do marketing in person?”
And one of the most fascinating things to me always around niches is that when you get more focused and you know exactly who you’re going after, it suddenly gets a lot easier to figure out where to go to find them and how to get in front of them. Like I even chuckled, on the main part of your website, a lot of us are like…if we get any level of media exposure, we’ll put like, “As seen on CNBC” or MarketWatch or some consumer media publication we got into because we try to do the social proofing and credibility. And your site says, “Financial planning for physicians,” it’s like “As seen in Medical Economics, The New England Journal of Medicine, the American Medical Association, and White Coat Investor.”
And all of these publications, all of these marketing channels are like, look, if the average financial advisor writes an article for Medical Economics or tries to speak or do something for the American Medical Association, it ain’t resonating. You’re not getting any clients from a one-off engagement with one of those. But when you specialize in physicians and focus in physicians and are trying to figure out how to get seen by physicians a half a dozen different times for them to learn my brand, and all these different organizations, groups, associations, publications and the rest that they read so I can get in front of over and over again, suddenly the marketing plan, to me, actually becomes clearer and easier once you actually pick who you’re going after because it just gets more straightforward to say, “Well, what are they doing? Where do they look at stuff? I’m just going to go there. Like, a bunch of them read the White Coat Investor blog, fine, I’m going to figure out how to be on the White Coat Investor blog. Because if that’s where they read, then that’s where I’m going.” And the more specific you get, the easier that actually seems to become.
Ryan: Absolutely. And the avenues that open up when you start putting out the best content you can completely for free are remarkable. I get quoted all the time in different publications because they found me through our podcast that we’re reaching a certain number of people, and they get fascinated, they go listen, then they go, “Hey, you clearly know physicians, we’re doing an article on, I don’t know, Medical Economics, we want to get a bunch of quotes.” Sure. Like, I’m happy to do that. They come to me now. I never would have thought any of this would have happened. Because I didn’t truly set it out that way and honestly believe in myself that I could build it like this. But it always comes from a place of helping. How can I help people?
Pandemic times, most people are stopping the content creation or just keeping kind of even-keeled. I decided to take questions from our community and questions that I get all the time. And I was literally doing for the month of April and a full…every single day that I was answering a question and producing something for them and received dozens of people that were like, “Thank you so much for this. I only have a very short period of time between work and passing out from exhaustion. It’s nice to know you’re nerding out on money, and I can still learn a little bit about it.” New England Journal of Medicine reached out; I’ve been a panelist of theirs for the last couple years in their Financial Planning 101 series. That never would have happened if I was, “Oh, I work with doctors and dentists and CPAs and engineers.” Like, it doesn’t happen that way, right?
Michael: At Inman Financial Planning, we do comprehensive financial planning for anyone and everyone that we meet. Like, it may be true and includes every doctor, but no one’s excited…like, no one at The New England Journal of Medicine is as excited to bring in comprehensive financial planner from Inman Wealth as they are to bring in the co-founder of Physician Wealth Services who runs the popular “Financial Residency” podcast.
Ryan: And that’s really where it comes down to, is just giving out…it sounds so backwards, Michael, especially when I say it again and I’m thinking of it. Before I say it, I’m going, “Oh, this sounds so weird.” But just give away as much as you possibly can to help that clientele. And the people that are DIY, right, not everyone’s meant to work with a planner. That’s totally cool, right? The people that are DIY, you’re changing their lives by providing this type of content, this education to them, that they can go and impact.
And I look at it as, if I help one doctor, I help thousands. Right? Because if they’re not going to burn out or get into financial trouble because of something that I helped teach them and they never paid me a single penny, that is amazing. That’s like, my life’s work is done right there. I just love being able to help those people, because they help and are healing everyone else, which is, obviously the domino effect is huge. But there is a certain subset that goes, “Man, that’s a good point. I never thought of XYZ that way. But I don’t have the time or desire or… I just don’t want to be responsible, and I need someone to help me. Well, I’m going to go to the guy that literally nerds out on this all the time.”
Michael: We even had an interesting phenomenon at my prior firm where we sort of got a similar approach. Like, on Nerd’s Eye View, we publish a lot of stuff out there for a lot of people, including a lot of folks who are DIYers. They read it for themselves and they’ll use it for themselves, but they’re never going to do business with us because they’re DIYers. And we had someone – I’ll call him Bob for anonymity purposes – Bob’s an engineer in one of the labs up in Maryland that has lots and lots of engineers. And he was a DIYer. He had found the blog through Google at some point and although he knew our firm was local, he was never going to work with us because he’s a do-it-yourselfer. But because Bob was kind of like a finance guy and as finance guy with his friends, what we discovered ended out happening was like, Bob likes to talk about finance stuff at the water cooler with a whole bunch of his friends who don’t know as much stuff as he does. And so inevitably, his friends would ask him for advice. When their questions got too complex, he would say like, “I can’t answer that. You really got to go hire an advisor. You should go hire Kitces, his firm is right up the street. I don’t work with them because I do it myself, but you need help, you should go work with him.”
And we actually ended out in this referral cycle where Bob sent us a material number of referrals over the years, even though he was never going to be our client because he was a do-it-yourselfer. But do-it-yourselfers have a lot of friends who are not do-it-yourselfers and it turns out where the DIYers go for information ends out being where they send people when their friends ask them for help that they’re not comfortable giving. And it’s like another version of that, when you give information out, even and including to do-it-yourselfers who aren’t going to do business with you anyways, you never quite know where and how that still potentially finds its way back to you.
Ryan: Yeah, yeah, I completely agree. And to the point that if anyone’s listening and says, “Well, I give out content,” it depends on the way that you’re giving it out. And this might be completely backwards, Michael, I don’t know if I do this right, if I do this wrong. But on the podcast, which is generally where the bulk of people are coming, I barely talk about the fact that I’m an advisor. It’s not that I pitch my services every show, multiple times a show. I still get emails, and this is somewhat cringe-worthy as being the planner, but I get emails and said, “Ryan, I love the show. I’ve listened for the last two years. This is fantastic. I live in Houston. Do you know of anyone who does what you do in Houston?” I’m like, “Oh, I’m nationwide, man. Like, I could be your planner.” So I respond back and I’m like, “I technically can work nationwide. If you’re interested, we’d love to talk with you. If not, let me know and I’ll connect you with someone. If you want someone local, I’ll do a quick search and see if I can find anyone that would be local that could help you that’s fee-only.” And they respond, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize. Yeah, I’d love it.” And they book a call, right?
So I still have plenty of people who don’t realize that I’m even a financial advisor. And maybe that’s poor form, right? But it shows that I truly just want to help this clientele. And if they need help, hopefully, they ask. They might go off and find a “competitor.” I kind of don’t view that we have competitors. Because just there’s 25,000 new residents that become attendings every year, like, I couldn’t service 1% of those people. So if they choose someone else, fantastic. I’m totally fine with that.
But it’s coming from a place of truly helping and providing as much value as you can. And that’s what gets shared. That’s what people love, and that’s where you’re going to find people like your Bob that then use that and can refer it out, or they see it and go, “Maybe I just need to hire this person to help me.” But that’s not my intention ever. If that was my intention, I wouldn’t have done a daily podcast or I wouldn’t go off three days a week doing the podcast, because they only need it technically one day a week, if that was the case, and I’d throw a whole bunch of ads for Physician Wealth Services. But that’s not where I come from. I come from a place of helping. And I think that that really shows. So when they kind of go through the cycle, right, the funnel of understanding like, “Oh, these are free podcasts and free groups.”
And we just actually released our book in the beginning of April, my wife and I co-authored it. And literally, the book is trying to put me out of business. I’m not even kidding, it’s how to build a financial plan for an early-career physician, going step-by-step on building out a general plan. I want people to have this info because if they are more in tune with their finances and they understand it, they’re still going to run into trouble when things get more difficult, and hopefully, we’re there to help them.
The basis of financial planning, I think, should be taught in high school. But physicians, they go through four years of high school, four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of residency, maybe even more, three years of fellowship, like my wife did, and receive zero training at all in finance. So I just keep trying to push out as much content as I can to help them.
And I think that’s what’s really been the catalyst for the hockey stick of growth, is just being myself and just helping as much as I can. And we can talk through the numbers and what the stuff looks like if you want. But I just want to emphasize the point that you have to truly want to help that clientele. And it not be, “Hey, I’m going to produce this so I can get X number of referrals,” or, “I’m going to do this and every two minutes say how I’m an advisor and they need to work with me.” That shouldn’t be the place where you’re coming from.
Why Having A Focus Niche Makes It Easier To Market [00:38:09]
Michael: You said that you kind of had this turning point in late 2017, like, out at the XYPN Live Conference and kind of deciding, “Okay, maybe I really am going to go off to this niche thing.” And then being at FinCon, which for those who aren’t familiar is basically the Financial Bloggers Conference. So sort of the broader community of bloggers who write personal finance content of which advisors are sort of a small sub-grouping of. That you went to the FinCon conference and got a lot more ideas of, “How do I actually get in front of these people?” So talk to us overall about what the marketing strategy has been over the past few years, or maybe even like, what did you start initially based on what you learned at FinCon, and then how has it changed over time?
Ryan: Oh, yeah, it’s…I’m learning every day constantly new things, not only in marketing and planning. Everything is changing at this point in the world. But that was in 2016 that I had gone to XYPN and to FinCon. And in 2017, I said, “Okay, look, I need to redo the website. I need to actually be more in focus with physicians.” The firm’s name changed, I believe is at the end of 2016 or early 2017, to actually be Physician Wealth services. I kind of view that…
Michael: What was it originally?
Michael: Simple Wealth Services.
Ryan: Yeah, just Simple. So it was about building simplistic plans, and just understanding that financial planning can be simple. And it was really a horrible strategy right out the gate. And it was just…because I had no idea what I was truly doing. I knew who I wanted to work with, but I didn’t want to market to just them. I wanted to be able to technically help anyone if I could, but I really wanted to focus on that physician, but I just was so terrified to actually make it niche, that I went with something as broad as I actually could. And then 2017…
Michael: And what was the fear? Just, I’m so struck by it. Because you’ve kind of noted this a few times, that you knew you were going after physicians, you were only getting physicians, in practice, but you were terrified to market to them or market only to them.
Ryan: It was not knowing what to do. It was not knowing what to do, not knowing how to actually get a message across. I’d always worked with clients or in the beginning of my career, like, behind the scenes, I’ve never ran a business myself. My family’s a bunch of entrepreneurs. So I knew kind of what goes into it. I knew what pool I was about to swim in of craziness, right? Entrepreneurs, we’re the only people that want to work 80 hours so we don’t work 40 hours for someone else. But I knew that I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how. And so I just said, “Well, I’m going to throw this out there. I’m going to just start. I just need to get moving and get it going.” And then eventually, I was like, “That was probably not the best decision. I probably should have been more focused on the name and the clientele and the message.” And so in 2017, or late ’16 or early ’17, I switched the name. I started changing the website around, tried to change some of the marketing around.
I’ve been a podcast listener for… Gosh, “BiggerPockets” launched their podcast years and years ago. I was like episode number five, I remember. This was like, 2010. I’ve listened to podcast forever. But I’m pretty introverted. And I’ve wanted to start one forever. But the idea of pushing “record” and having it go out to anyone was kind of terrifying at the beginning. And so it took me pretty much the whole year to build up the courage even to then go do that. And I launched it. I call it “Financial Residency.” Thanks to my wife for creating that name. And, again, in the niche of itself. It was really slow to get going, and I made a lot of mistakes. Podcasting, as you know, Michael, has a decent learning curve in the beginning to get things going and the connections and the software and the equipment and all of those things, but just the idea, right, of, “Hey, potentially hundreds of people could listen to me.” That’s kind of crazy. That’s a huge room, right, that I’d be talking to people. And what kind of content would I provide?
So there were a lot of mental roadblocks that I put up. And eventually, I just said, “You know what? Enough is enough. This has to happen. This is what I truly want to do. This is exactly who I want to help, and how I want to help them. And I just need to get out of my own way and stop saying, ‘Well, what if this happened? Well, what if that happened.’ And I just need to be myself. And put myself out there and help as much as I possibly can. And I believe that if I help enough people, that people will turn around and actually seek the information that I have, that I’ve been putting out and will allow me to help them go and craft their plan and live out their ideal life.”
Michael: So, what did that podcast look like when you first launched it? What did you do at the beginning? How did you get started with it?
Ryan: Oh, man, it was so tough, but it was one of those that… And I leave my first episode up there. Because sometimes I feel like I don’t make enough change. I’m not improving. And then I go listen to that episode, probably listened to it a few dozen times now. And I’m like, “Oh, man, that was really bad. That was really bad. I’ve come a long way from that.” So it then immediately picks myself up, and I keep going on my day, on my work. But it was just trying to map out who I could have on the podcast that maybe had physicians that followed them. So there are some physician bloggers and other podcasters. And then it was, what other type of industry people do I love? I’m a huge fan of Sarah Fallaw’s work. I’ve had her on the show a few times talking about behavioral finance. And then there were some episodes of just me answering listener questions, going through some of the key topics that they need to understand. It turns out that I now have several advisors that listen to the show, which always makes me chuckle a little bit because they’re trying to figure out how they can better serve their clients, which I think is amazing.
But in the beginning, it was really tough. Just being able to consistently produce content, and knowing how to produce it. There’s a pretty big learning curve, in addition to like, getting out of my own way and not being terrified that someone’s actually going to be listening to the stuff that I’m pushing out. Some other advisors do this in the form of blogs. They’re better writers, so they enjoy writing more. Clearly, you enjoy writing. So you’re going to obviously put out some fantastic content that way. I have that, but it’s not my strong suit. To do more blogs is not my aim. It’s really podcasting and talking and interviewing people that can bring value.
So it was tough getting started, though, but I’m so thankful. I just said, “You know what? I’m doing this. I’m getting out of my own way.” I pulled a bunch of our friends who are physicians and said, “What do you want to learn about? What can I talk about?” And I asked them specifically, I pulled like 50 or 60 of our friends that are physicians and they actually picked the name, funny enough. So you love the name, Michael, Physician Wealth Services, but it wasn’t my top choice. That was, the overwhelming majority loved this name. So I chose this name, I put out about eight different logos, they picked the logo. It doesn’t make any sense of what I love. It’s, what do they love?
Michael: Interesting. And so as you started building in this direction, where were you going for information, just trying to figure out, “What am I doing and how am I doing this?”
Ryan: Yeah. Are you asking in terms of like the marketing piece?
Michael: Or even just kind of building the podcast and figuring out how to get it going.
Ryan: Yeah, there were some really great resources through the FinCon group. I can’t thank them enough, PT in their whole group, for really helping. I would just ask questions in their Facebook group, honestly. Say, “Hey, I’m looking at doing this, how does this work? What software works with this?” I did hire an editor because I realized really quickly that a 20-minute show took me 2 and a half hours to edit. I don’t, one, have that time, but two, I don’t enjoy that work. So I hired an editor who I was thankful, was able to give me some pointers on how to get better and what not to do and what to do. And really, I leveraged that group and the amount of amazing people in that group to help me through that piece.
Michael: And can I ask, like, who did you hire as the editor? Is that someone that’s in the business of doing it for other advisors and podcast, interested folks as well?
Ryan: Yeah. So I launched with a gentleman named Steve Stewart, and he helped edit the show and give a bunch of great feedback and was able to leverage his expertise. And then as this grew and I had a little bit more coming in to the business that I could put back into making the show a bit better, or my social presence a bit better, I did hire someone that could kind of help me navigate the world of social media and marketing, so to speak, that really leveraging their experience and expertise to this type of venue that I was doing, which was podcasting in the Facebook group. And I think having those people in my corner were extremely helpful in what we were building and what I was doing.
Michael: I’m struck as well by just the willingness, the comfort to go out and spend on this stuff. Like, I think for a lot of us, one of the biggest challenges and pain points around like trying to go this direction is just, I don’t know that I’ve got the time to do it. I don’t know that I’ve got the expertise to it. I’m not even sure I’ve got the expertise to figure out who to hire that has the expertise. That you seem to have a certain willingness or comfort to just say, “Look, if I don’t know how to do it, I’m going to spend some money and hire and find someone that can help me do it.”
Ryan: Wouldn’t we be hypocrites if we couldn’t say, “Hey, I’m not smart enough to do XYZ, let me go find an expert to go help me achieve that so I can hit my goals?” Right? That’s one of the whole things that whoever, I don’t care what clientele you’re using, right, or I should say what niche you’re in or what clientele you’re trying to attract, if you tell them, “Hey, I’m an expert in this” and you’re not, and that’s okay, “But I’m going to help you get from A, where we’re at, to C, where you want to go, and to be able to live your ideal life, to hit your goals, to do what you want to do, to live an amazing life, hire me as the expert to do that,” why would I go try to bootstrap everything myself?
Now, I get there are DIY people, and I could be that, but I’m not necessarily…and I’m totally comfortable saying it. I am not an expert in everything. I am not the smartest guy in the room, and I’m cool with it. But I want to find the smartest people in the room to help me in whatever I’m deficient in so then I can help more people, more physicians be a better version of themselves, and to have a better financial life.
So I was able to be fortunate that, again, I’m married to a physician. Granted, she’s a pediatric pulmonologist. So in the physician world, she’s pretty much at the bottom of the pay scale. But nonetheless, she’s still a physician. And we are not super-crazy spenders, so we can absolutely live and save off her salary. That means everything that came into the business, I could actually go put out into making the business – the actual business – better. And that’s essentially what I had done, was just keep reinvesting into things that I don’t know or understand, and get out of my own way and just do it, and just do the work.
And that’s really where this comes in, right, the whole iceberg concept when you laid it out. And I’m just…I kind of chuckled because it’s like, all it is, is just doing the work and doing it in the right way. And if you don’t know what the right way is, find someone that can help you, and then do the actual work.
Michael: Well, it’s an interesting point that you make of how part of the dynamics and getting launched in an advisory firm is having a plan for household income, of just, how are you going to make the math work? How are you going to pay the bills and keep going while you’re building the practice? That being in this framework, we can live off of my wife’s salary, not just while I launched the business, but with enough for runway that even as we start growing and generating some profits, I can reinvest that back into the business to do more podcasting, marketing, whatever else it is that you’re trying to do to grow. That’s part of the overall household strategy about how we build and turn this into a business?
Obviously, not everybody is necessarily in a position to have a spouse where the math works to be able to do that. But that when you’re able to get the household finances to the point of doing that and freeing up a little bit of the pressure on yourself, that it’s not, “I have to figure out how to get 42 clients in my first 12 to 18 months to put food on our table”, but that gives you room to be able to reinvest, to do some of the things that you’re doing and not always have to bootstrap everything yourself or DIY everything because you just literally have no dollars to hire anybody to help.
Ryan: Yeah. I would have started the firm a year and a half, maybe even two years earlier if I had more runway, but we were very diligent. And I’ve had to move and do a lot of things for my wife’s career. So she went to med school in Kansas, which is where she’s from. I was in Southern California doing both my master’s degrees. And then I moved to Orange County, which is actually where I grew up, but I moved from San Diego up to Orange County because she did her residency there. And then in three years, we moved down to San Diego, and, of course, then I moved down there because she was having her fellowship for three years. And so there’s a lot of moving around a lot of pieces.
And I would have done this earlier if I had the runway, but I didn’t. But we were diligently saving so I could launch my own practice. Because I knew what I wanted to do and kind of the crowd I wanted to help, even if I was afraid to kind of publicly admit out and kind of put my message out because I am so anti-sales, Michael. Like, I hate the word “sales.” To me, it just always feels slimy, the concept. So I think maybe some of my hesitation to put out that I was really just wanting to work with physicians maybe kind of stemmed from that. Really, the best way I can just put it, it was just in my own way. It was in my own head. And not letting that piece out was probably a really poor decision. But I’m happy that I was able to get away from it. But I would have started the firm earlier, but I needed that runway.
And then when she started working as an attending and we could afford a little bit more and a little bit nicer stuff, but we still saved enough and hit all our financial goals. Because, again, we don’t spend a ton. So that allowed me to not really reinvest back in the business. And I invest that back into making everything I can about the business better, whether that’s technology internally on software, we leverage lots and lots of tech on our end, or it’s making the podcast bigger, better, more powerful, or hiring someone that can help me with social media because I tend to get frustrated with social media. So having my message being crafted a little bit better, or even just copy on the website.
Michael: Who did you hire to help with social media? I feel like that’s a pain point a lot of people have, and it sort of feels weird to let anybody else “do” your social media.
Ryan: Yeah. So her name is Desiree. She’s amazing. If anyone wants contact info, just email me. She’s fantastic. And when I say “do social media,” really what it is, is I know what I want to say, and so I’ll either craft the message, and then she’ll edit it and make it sound coherent and correct, or she would take her best stab at saying, “Hey, I know you want to talk on this or mention this,” and then I go through and I edit and I approve, and then she’s helping me schedule those things.
She’s not out there like typing on behalf of me. I know lots of people that do that. That’s not what I’m trying to create. I want authentic engagement with people, but leveraging time, right? It’s just leveraging time with money and expertise. So she’s much better at writing and copywriting and understands how to frame messages better. Or when…in our Facebook group, we’ve got 5,300 people, I think, physicians that are in that group now, crafting little writing prompts and helping get them engaged, I’m not the best at that. And I’m okay admitting that. But she comes up with these ideas, I review everything and then she schedules it.
So I know and I’m saying everything in my voice, in my tone, I know what’s being said, but I’m having someone on the team now help me make sure that I’m consistent and that I’m still providing value. So that’s what I had done with that in terms of just, again, putting more money back into the business.
But one of the hardest things about launching the business was there was a lot of information. And you guys at XY Planning Network put out fantastic stuff. That was one of the things in 2015 that…because that’s when I joined, was October 2015, I want to say. I can’t remember exactly. No, maybe November. But it was the content you guys were producing around starting your own practice and making it relatable that I could do this was really helpful. It was a little hard when it was, “Hey, you could start…” I think it was Sophia’s post. It was like, “You could start it for $10,000.” And I wish that was the case.
Michael: Yes, a somewhat infamous post. Well, to be fair, she did get her firm launched for under $10,000. She did, but I guess I would probably now characterize it as a lean launch. Like, she was very lean in the expenses and the stuff that she put in place. Like, it does, to me, make an interesting point overall that I think your story illustrates well, that for advisors getting started, well, whether you manage to do it under $10,000 like Sophia did, I think more advisors I see probably end out in kind of the $10,000 to $20,000 range, just by the time you get some compliance support and the tech you need and a website stood up, which usually isn’t cheap, and a few other areas where you may get contract help.
But it’s your household expenses, it’s your personal upkeep that buries most advisors and keeps them from having enough runway, enough staying time to actually get to critical mass with clients and make it work, which it sounds like you guys were very mindful of with like having a runway and savings and being able to live on your wife’s salary while you were getting started so that the personal upkeep wouldn’t be your downfall.
Ryan: Yeah, that was absolutely critical, is to make sure that that wouldn’t be the downfall. That I could keep reinvesting back in for as long as I wanted or needed to, to find better help, or just as we grew. It’s one thing as you’re growing a client a month and bringing that on, and there’s another thing when you’re growing at 8 to 10 clients a month and how much you have to think ahead.
And it gets very challenging navigating the, “Hey, how much should I keep paying myself” versus, “This is going to be at an unsustainable level in three months, uh-oh, time to make some adjustments, or in six months make more adjustments.” So it’s been a challenge, I will say, a very different on, and I’m very fortunate to say that we’re helping so many people. But from an organizational standpoint of headcount and…having to train people and how much work we can actually do without working 100-hour work weeks – that’s my new challenge right now – is not necessarily the launching, but now it’s the managing crazy growth. And it really stems, I think, just from that podcast, and really helping people as much as I can.
Michael: So talk to us about kind of the marketing process, the growth process as it exists today. So you’ve mentioned the podcast, you’ve mentioned blogging. You mentioned a Facebook group with thousands of people. Like, can you explain to us I guess like what the marketing process or funnel is of like, how are you getting clients today? How does all this stuff work together to make business happen?
Ryan: Yeah. So the podcast goes out in normal times, I will say two times a week. Monday is more of a technical show. Friday we do what we call like our FHAs or financial health assessments, where we just have listeners call in and we tell them, “Hey, this is what we see, this is what you should look at.” And obviously disclaimers all across the board that this is not a financial plan, this is just trying to help the community navigate the process. We really show them on the show what financial planning is.
A lot of people get confused and think it’s just investments, right? It’s, “I don’t have enough money to invest. So I can’t work with a planner.” Whereas this show, we’ve allowed people or helped people to understand maybe some of the pitfalls that they have when they see someone else’s scenario. So that has been fantastic.
I tell people all the time to join our community and I link to it. I basically made it to where if you… So I’ll just say it on air, financialresidency.com/community, right? So if someone was to go there, it would actually route them right to our Facebook group. And that allows them to come in and to join and to see. There are thousands of people just like them listening and they can ask questions.
There’s a community aspect to it where you can crowdsource some of this information, if you will. I chime in and kind of give my two cents into some things, but really, I let them have their own community. It’s not necessarily about me, it’s about them.
And then the blog kind of goes together where we take a transcription of the podcast, and then we rewrite it a little bit to flow more like a blog. So the website is continually getting updated with content, but really the content started from just like how you and I are talking right now, on a podcast. It would just be a straight transcription. And then this poor soul that would have to go through our long, long podcast here would probably want to cry, but my general podcasts are about 30 minutes long. So they’re going through and then converting that over. And Desiree helps me with that. So we pay for conversion or transcription, I should say. We use rev.com. They go through, they use their AI, I think, to transcribe it. We get a file back. And then Desiree goes in and tries to help me make it sound more like a blog post. I review it, I edit it, and then we post it. And so when you get all these pieces together, it’s just a lot of content to help people.
But again, those people, if you come from this not just screaming, “I’m an advisor, come work with me,” if you just come at it as, “Here’s all the content that I think you need to be aware of based on where you’re at in your career, and these are the things that are happening,” or… I just had someone on, we were talking about the changes in disability that the big five are really doing for physicians that are on the front line. And that is really information that they need to know right now. Because they were wiping the idea of how you don’t need to go in and have labs done. They’re going to just pull EMRs and do a much more extensive interview and give people up to $35,000 of monthly benefit on their disability.
That’s huge for a physician to understand, because if you maybe had a little bit of a spotty record, you could have this type of coverage because of the times we’re in, and the insurance companies are willing to do that. So it’s time-sensitive information as well to just provide benefit. And they know that if they listen, they read, wherever they’re finding the info, that if they want to work with us, they know where to get a hold of us. It’s at the bottom of every page that they can, “Hey, maybe we’re a good fit. Click here to learn more.” And they do and it goes right to the Physician Wealth Services.
Michael: Interesting. And so can you give us a sense of I guess what the volume or activity is? I don’t know if you measure it by people in the Facebook community, podcast downloads, blog hits.
What do you look at for metrics to figure out like, does this have a reach? Is it working? Are we getting to what we want to get to?
Ryan: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. So last year, in 2019, we averaged about 21 people reaching out every month to inquire about how we could potentially work together, how we could help them. Again, my sales “process” is not salesy. They sit down and they meet with us. I ask them about their story, get to know them a bit, try to figure out if we are a good fit. Just because they’re a physician doesn’t mean they’re a good fit. And then I either say, “Hey, this is the services we can help you,” or, “We can’t, and let me refer you to someone else.” And that happens quite frequently, that we want to make sure that they’re in the right stage of their career. Because we found that working with physicians and only physicians, that about 80% of what they have going on is identical or really close in the same periods of their career. And so we can actually help them because we’ve seen this literally 20 times this month, go through.
In terms of the 2020 metrics, we’re averaging about 32 people a month that are reaching out and booking calls from Physician Wealth Services. And really, we track where people come from, because on our Calendly link when they book, we say, “How did you hear about us?” And a good majority of those people are coming from the podcast or the Facebook group. We do have one ad that we pay for that’s on the White Coat Investors blog, that we get some traffic but not too much traffic from. And then we obviously get referrals, as traditional practices know, like, as you get bigger, you just happen to get more referrals over time.
So we’re seeing more referrals come in as well from current clients. And then, obviously, we can easily log in to Libsyn, which is the hosting company for the podcast. And I’m not sure when this technically airs, but we’re at about 650,000 downloads since inception. So the podcast has been growing month over month, which is awesome and fantastic. We saw a little dip for this pandemic because a lot of the people that we’re talking to are off saving our butts from the pandemic. So they can’t listen as much, but I get emails all the time.
Michael: And I know for a lot of people, they listen to podcasts while they’re driving. And so in a world where we’re not commuting as much also has reduced podcast listenership for some.
Ryan: Oh, absolutely. When I stopped driving an hour each way, which, by the way, my commute was only seven miles, thank you very much, San Diego, my podcast consumption went down considerably with that. So I can only imagine that the only “podcast” that they’re listening to is probably their kids screaming in the background as they’re trying to get work done at this point.
So I think it’s natural that we would see a little bit of decline in terms of downloads we did. But for people who are reaching out and actually signing on, April of 2020 was our best month. We helped more physicians than we’ve ever helped in a single month. So it’s something that…it’s been challenging from the human standpoint, right? I’ve got kids that are home, all of a sudden, I’ve become a teacher, which I’ve learned that I’m not well equipped to do. And I hope people truly learn that teachers are underpaid and I think are not respected enough for the amount of time and effort that they put into our kids. So I’m very thankful of our teachers that help. And I can’t wait for them to start actually being a real teacher again, and not me faking to be a teacher for my kids.
But just that with the amount of outreach and the family aspects, I’ve honestly never worked harder in my entire life. But I’m fortunate and I truly love what I do. And I think that comes back into being able to finally help the people that I truly want to help.
Michael: When you talk about podcast activity, you said 650,000 sort of downloads over the years. How many episodes have you done? What does that translate to? How many people listen to a particular or a typical episode of which you’re generating like 30-plus prospects a month?
Ryan: Yeah, probably like 3,500 downloads a show is roughly I’d say the average of where we’re at now. It just depends. Those daily shows had a lot less downloads, maybe because they were five minutes long and I was just literally playing a voicemail of someone who left it in and then would answer it. Or I would read their question that they had emailed in or put in our group. So I kind of blew that episode. I know how you do episode numbers. I kind of blew that out of the water this month with…or in April, with the daily show. But I get about on average like 3,500 downloads. So this is not…in terms of size, this is not Joe Rogan, right? I’m not millions of downloads. This is not even probably your show. You don’t need a huge audience to serve who you want to serve and to work with it.
If 10% of the people that listen to my show reached out, I couldn’t service them. Right? Think about that for a second, I can’t service 90% of the people who listen to me multiple times a week if that was truly the case. So it’s a fascinating thing. You just have to come at it from that mindset again. Because I see a lot of people, a lot of advisors reach out, I’ve coached a couple advisors to launching their own podcasts, it’s something I do on the side just to help people, usually coming at it the wrong way, “I want to produce this to generate X business.” And I’m like, “It could happen. It’s going to be a while till it happens.”
But you have to come at it wanting to help this segment, this niche get through their issues, their problems to where they go, “Man, Michael, I’ve been listening to him for a while and he’s got these really long-form podcasts and they’re fantastic. And they deep dive into all this. And it’s really helped me learn, I need to kind of pivot here and there.” The next time an advisor says a question, I’m going to be like, “Go check out Kitces’s podcast. It’s fantastic.” Right? They don’t have to necessarily even be a client, like how we were talking about your ideal Bob.
Michael: Yeah. Like, Bob wasn’t a client. He was a person that other people ask questions and advice about and he pointed them to us, even though he wasn’t going to use us directly because…well, he used the free stuff. He didn’t use the paid stuff, but he still referred people who paid because some people are do-it-yourselfers and some are not.
Ryan: But you still helped him, right? You helped him…
Michael: Oh, absolutely.
Ryan: …through what he needed. And he was appreciative and he referred business to you. I love the podcast avenue because you can’t fake it, right? I know that you don’t fake it on your blog because I know how you are.
Michael: Like, if you just want to fake it, that is a horribly time-ineffective way to go about faking it, like, giant multi-thousand-word blog posts.
Ryan: Exactly, right? But you, in theory, could have someone write that entire post and we would never know, in theory, right? But you can’t fake a podcast. I can’t fake Michael Kitces’s voice or my voice on the Kitces podcast. You can’t fake that. So people get to really know you. And I love the doors that have been opened from the podcast, but I also love the different conversations that have happened. And some of it was really weird.
In the beginning, it was very weird for me. When someone would meet with me across a Zoom call here, because I work remotely, remember, with everyone. So the pandemic didn’t change anything the way that we work in our business. But I’ll start talking like, “Hey, I’m Ryan, nice to meet you,” and they just start laughing. I’m like, “Do I have like something on my face? What’s going on?” They’re like, “No, I’ve heard you so much but I’ve never seen your face move and your voice come out at the same time,” because I don’t do video. So it’s like, very different for them to see and hear me. Just those type of things. Or, “Hey, I know you had recently moved and done this,” because I bring my wife on the show and we talk. She probably comes on like every four or so months. And so they know generally about us.
The conversation is just very different. It’s not making sure that I’m a real human being and that I’m not a scam artist or something where they’re very skeptical going into any financial planner and interviewing them and just very…they’re on high alert, right? All these people who are looking to work with planners, they’re just on high alert, which is, I think, okay to do that. But it’s a very different, more relaxed conversation about how we can actually help them. And are we the right fit? And immediately the conversation, within 30 seconds, is getting into that, the real good stuff. Not, “Let me vet this guy or gal, see if they’re real. See if they’re trying to pitch one that I’m not going to know what’s happening.” That all goes away with having been more vocal through a podcast. People could do this through YouTube as well. I’m not the best on video. It’s something I’d like to get better at, but I’m just not. And that’s okay. But I love the podcast form.
And one thing else before we switch, Michael, on the podcasting piece is that it opens up doors that would never have come up. I personally don’t think that I would have ever had opportunities that have come up. I’ve had different types of interviews that have been fantastic that went to bigger publications. I spoke at John Hopkins’ residency and UNC’s residency. I’m speaking to a bunch of Air Force physicians in the upcoming month. Just different residency programs are reaching out because they listen to the show and they go, “Can you help us?” And immediately I could be like, “Yeah, and I charge for it,” or I could say, “You know what? Let me just help these people, and if they want to become clients at some point, cool, and if not, no worries.”
The more that I keep putting out, the more that I’m helping. I truly believe that it comes back. That was the message I want to make sure I got across, is like, yes, there’s a lot of content, yes, I do a lot of things, but I’m doing them for the right reason. And I hope people that are producing content or decide to take some action today and starting a podcast, that’d be fantastic. We need more advisor podcasters, right? We need more great content coming out from people who understand finance and that aren’t just winging it, so to speak, right? We need their voices out there. So hopefully, people kind of take away that you need to put it out for the right reason, though.
Michael: Well, and I am struck that just like the math of it is interesting, that you’re talking about numbers, like 3,500 downloads per show and 5,000, 5,500 people in the Facebook community. On the one hand, that’s a lot of people, right? If you imagine them in a convention center, you just filled like a significant portion of a convention center.
Ryan: It’d be terrifying. I’m terrified to talk in front of 20 people. Right? That’s a lot of people. And in the grand scheme of things, though, it’s not that many people for some of the bigger podcasts.
Michael: Well, that’s the thing. As you said, Joe Rogan’s millions, and there are radio shows that… Oh, heck, I know advisors that do radio, and it’s like, “Well, we only want to broadcast in markets that have at least a half a million people or more because otherwise, we don’t think the radio show can get enough reach to generate a sufficient volume of prospects.”
And here you are talking about a podcast with 3,500 downloads per show of a regular audience, bringing in 30 prospects a month, which if I do the math is 360 prospects a year. I know not 100% of your business is coming from the podcast, but basically, you’re turning 10% of your podcast audience. Like, you’re doing 350-plus prospects from 3,500 regular listeners, like, the numbers are astounding to me in that context.
I see a lot of advisors that will spend thousands and thousands of dollars to buy lists for marketing strategies, to do seminars in the hopes that 1% of the people you sent to the list just even show up for your seminar. Only a portion of them will even take a follow-up meeting and only a portion of them will become clients.We do these broad blast marketing strategies with seminars and the like, which I think is sort of our roots as advisors where, at the end of the day, if 0.1% of the people who get your mail or do business with you, you’re actually doing pretty good on your conversion.
And you’re living in this world where you might get 10% of the people who are listening to your podcast becoming prospects that want to do business with you. And that’s growing and compounding because you’re up 50% from your average from last year. Like, it’s compounding and building for the same effort.
Ryan: Yeah, and it comes, again, back to like, most people know that I’m an advisor, but I truly get at least four or five emails a month that are like, “Hey, can you help me find someone that’s like you but in X state?” I truly get those emails. And so that should show that I’m not promoting our services all the time. I did promote our book because I was very proud of the book that my wife and I put out. And she worked hard on it. I worked hard on it. So we did promote it a couple shows in a row.
But even then, it wasn’t down their throat 14 times in the show. I listen to some people who are selling products and listen to their shows, and I get immediately turned off because 30% of the show is a pitch of a product or more. Some people, the only time I talk about being an advisor, is in my disclaimer. Like, “I don’t know you. From this, go reach out to you this. We’re advisors, we’re not your advisor.” I give a custom disclaimer.
Michael: Like, hint, unless you want us to be your advisor, in which case, please go to this website and contact us.
Ryan: That’s exactly it. That is exactly it. I don’t overly promote. There are some shows that I do that I think are very relevant to what we’re doing as an advisory practice, and where we’re showing the most benefit that we really provide a valuable difference and service, but for the most time, you’re hearing about us being advisors through our disclaimer, which no one listens to. We want them to.
So I’ve even been doing it twice now, in the beginning and the end for a disclaimer, because I want them to understand that. Again, it wasn’t always this way. Last year, we were getting on average 20 people. This year, we’re averaging a little over 30. The year before that, it was not even anywhere close to 20, right? It was much, much lower. So it is compounding. It is growing in that respect.
Ryan’s Unique Fee Structure [01:20:04]
Michael: So help us understand what the advisory firm business looks like today. Like, where does it stand now for clients or assets or revenue, or however you measure overall size of the firm?
Ryan: Yeah. So as you can imagine with student debt and the physicians that we work with, our average client has $298,000 of student debt, essentially. We have…
Michael: Average client is $298,000 of debt.
Ryan: Of student debt, not to mention like auto or mortgage or personal loans that they refinanced, credit card is out and then kind of credit card debt again, because they never learned that that was a very bad idea. We have some, Michael, upwards of $700,000-plus of student loan debt. So I’ve obviously become quite a nerd with student debt, and we go through a lot of that. But I have advised on well over $40 million of student debt, whereas our firm collectively manages like $12 million of assets, right, because we work with early-career physicians that don’t have a ton of money. They have a higher income earning potential, don’t have a ton of assets, and a crazy amount of debt. That’s really the bulk of our clientele.
Michael: So how does this work from a business model perspective then? Like, hard to make a living on AUM fees on $12 million.
Ryan: Yeah, the AUM model wouldn’t work. And I’m not a huge fan of the AUM model, honestly. But we charge a fixed flat fee to work with us. So if you have $1 million or less, it’s $500 a month to work with us. And if you have $1 million or more, it’s $833 a month. And the way that I’m viewing that is that I don’t feel like charging more for money to manage money until you actually have enough to manage and I feel for us to truly make a difference. Now, is there a big difference between $900,000 and $1 million? No, but it just makes it clean, easy break for us. That if you have enough money, then we’re going to charge you a little bit more. But if you don’t and you’re building your portfolio up, it’s a fixed flat fee to work with us.
Michael: So as I think about this annualized, like, it’s $6,000 a year to work with us. Or if you’ve got more than $1 million and some additional investment complexity, it’s $10,000 a year instead of $6,000 because you’ve got some more stuff.
Ryan: Yep. And that’s only on assets that we manage. So if you have a bunch of money in your 401(k), we’re not including that. It’s just truly assets that we manage it. And then we use TD Ameritrade Institutional.
Michael: And you chose to do it monthly as opposed to just charging a $6,000 or a $10,000 annual retainer?
Ryan: Yeah, because most of them couldn’t afford that, right? If we look at the clientele that we’re working with, they’re usually 0 to 10 years out of training. The longer they go out in training, we’ve found that the less actual cash flow that they do have, because they call it lifestyle inflation. You go from making, just for those that don’t work with physicians or have any…want to work with them, they go from making like $50,000, $55,000 a year in their training, residency or fellowship, to making $250,000 to $500,000, depending on specialty. Lower-paid specialties make $175,000 to $200,000. But for the most part, we’re seeing people that make around $250,000 and up.
So they have this high-income potential, and they start growing into that income. I always say more money, more problems, right? And then all of a sudden, they go, “Uh-oh, we thought we could do this. We can’t do this. We need help.”
It’s usually the longer that we go out in training, from their training, the less that they can actually afford. They get in that monthly payment mindset. The newer attendings that just got that bump, they could technically afford it. But I like the idea of just being able to quote them one easy fee monthly, that piece just mentally makes more sense for me.
We’re toying with the idea of tossing out that if they wanted to pay quarterly or semi-annually, that we could give a discount to those people but not make it required, because it’s something that I want them to see. I don’t want this to be buried in their account statement from the brokerage and then to not know what they’re paying us. I want them to know that they’re paying us, and I want them to reach out for help.
Michael: Are you still billing their investment accounts in order to do it, or are you actually billing them directly, even though you may be managing money for them?
Ryan: We use AdvicePay. So we’re billing everything through AdvicePay. Being members of XY Planning Network and not having the monthly fee on AdvicePay. And the simple ease of use of it, it really helps. And so we just have everyone set up on AdvicePay. And it bills them monthly and takes care of all of that for us. And, again, leveraging technology. That’s just one piece of tech that we’re using. But leveraging tech is super important to us to be able to handle not only working with everyone remotely, but then at scale and across multiple states, even just internally, we’re all in a different location.
The Specific Planning He Had To Develop To Serve His Niche Effectively [01:25:14]
Michael: So what do you do for clients with very little assets that you’re charging $6,000 a year? I think we sort of get the clients with more than $1 million, $10,000 because just even in traditional AUM terms, that’s kind of a 1% AUM fee. They’ve got a bunch of stuff. I think most of us know what that looks like. But when you talk about like $500 a month, which is not a trivial number, like $6,000 a year, and most of them, it sounds like, have significantly more debt than assets, like, what do you do for $500 a month?
Ryan: No, it’s totally cool. Great question. So if you think about where they’re coming out, a lot of them are on the wrong repayment plans for their student debt, which if you magnify that over hundreds of thousands of dollars, that can get quite messy quite fast. So we’re looking at obviously student debt. It’s really a done-for-you platform. That’s our inpatient planning. We’re helping them analyze their bank accounts, their spending. Literally, we’re giving them coaching on that spending. Some of them have such issues around spending that we’re meeting with them monthly to help them on that spending for 30 minutes to check in.
So in the first year of working with us, we go through a five-meeting structure to deliver a plan. That usually happens within about the first three months. And then we meet with them quarterly on different things that we’re implementing, whether they’re doing a bulk of the work and we’re helping, or we’re doing the bulk of work and they’re assisting, just depends what it is. I need them to go run quotes. We don’t sell insurance, right? Then we’re going to analyze it. We’re going to tell them what they need. We’re going to help them get it in place by working with that agent. There’s lots of pieces that they have. They’re starting blank slate. They have nothing done, and they usually don’t have a lot of time to get it done. So they’re paying for our time to help implement those pieces to actually make sure that the plan that we’re building in that three-month period, over those five meetings, is actually getting completed, and they’re actually making progress to it. So it isn’t the cheapest. It’s definitely not the most expensive, but it isn’t the cheapest service out there. But it’s because we’re meeting with clients at a minimum nine times in the first year.
Michael: And is that all like face…well, pandemic aside, was that all face-to-face in-person meetings that are that active? What does the meeting process look like? Since, as you noted, they’re busy and you’re trying to save them time. So I would imagine actually getting them to meet sometimes is the challenge.
Ryan: Of course. So we do everything through Zoom, right? That’s why the pandemic didn’t really change the way that we work and operate. Everything’s done through Zoom. And they’re usually 60-minute meetings. We do have 1 meeting that is usually 90 to 120 minutes. I am a Registered Life Planner. I know you’ve had George on, George Kinder, to talk about that. Dan, who’s also on our team, has gone through that training. Typically, our second meeting is the longest meeting, talking through their goals and what they’re doing and what they would like. What their ideal life looks like, ideal schedules, all that great stuff that George trains on.
But yeah, the meetings are typically done through Zoom. And then if they need it, where we go through and do a bigger, deep dive, if you will, on their spending, we use YNAB, You Need a Budget, and we have them basically start implementing pieces of their budget. We’re reviewing, and we actually do the monthly cash flow reporting for them. So if they send us their export of their YNAB, we turn around and say, “Here’s your net worth. Here’s how this changed. Here’s what your cash flow looks like.” And for the clients that truly need it, we actually meet with them and help them with some of their behavioral side on spending. And we have clients…not everyone’s like this, by any means, but we have clients that hide packages as they make purchases on maybe Amazon too much. So they’re hiding packages from their spouse or they’re doing certain things that we’re trying to help fix those behaviors. So it’s not just financial help. There’s a lot of behavioral coaching that goes into some work with some of these clients.
Michael: Talk to us a little bit more for a moment about YNAB. Because I think a lot of the people in the advisor community are not familiar with it. So can you talk about like, what is YNAB? How do people use it in general? What are you actually doing with it in an advisory firm context?
Ryan: Yeah. This has been a huge pain point for us because cash flow is, I think, the basis of planning. And to get good, accurate data has always been tough. We tried eMoney, we tried RightCapital. We’ve tried all sorts of different software and just, they haven’t been able to really nail it for us.
Michael: Because…where’s the gap? Because connections break? Because they don’t categorize properly? Where’s the actual gap in this regard?
Ryan: All the above. Connections breaking is obviously a huge issue. And they all kind of experience that with Plaid. And I think they just bought Quavo and the other one, that connections in from banks to connecting to the software is like, they’re all using kind of the same stuff. But what happens when the connections break? Do transactions actually get ported back in? Are transactions missing? If you can’t depend on that data, then any analysis you’re doing is immediately faulty, right? So being able to trust the data. And the idea that things were getting categorized. So one of the big issues with eMoney that we had was things were getting categorized incorrectly. And even if clients are going in and stating, “This is what it is,” it was automatically just always putting them into whatever that was. And necessarily, that’s not always the case. So clients were getting frustrated having to go in and recategorize and redo everything over and over and over again.
Michael: That’s fine because even for our household, we’re Mint users and have been for a long time. It’s a standard feature in Mint. You just click a little button that says “Always recategorize these identical transactions this way in the future” so you don’t have to keep fixing them on an ongoing basis.
Ryan: Yeah, we found that with eMoney, they would do that, but it wasn’t actually doing that. And we just saw that over hundreds of households, 100-plus. We work with 140-something people now, and we just see issues with… We had used a software called Tiller, and the issue with them was…everything was perfect. It was actually in a Google Sheet. It connected everything. It was all nice and pretty from a spreadsheet standpoint. One, it was kind of intimidating for clients, but I think that was okay. The big issue was, is when transactions…when the connections would break, the transactions would disappear and they wouldn’t come back. And we couldn’t depend on the data. And they couldn’t figure out what was happening.
So we’ve transitioned to YNAB, and we’ve been using that for a while. You Need a Budget. It’s YNAB. And the nice thing about that was that it doesn’t let you “budget” out money that you haven’t earned yet. Whereas traditional, like even on Mint, you could say, “I’m going to earn $10,000 this month, and here’s how I’m going to budget it.” YNAB says, “You only made $5,000 of that, where’s that $5,000 going?” And then when you make another $5,000, where’s that actually going? And we’ve found that for the clientele that we’re working with, that actually, to them, was even easier to understand then, “I have this huge pot of money. Let me allocate it. Oh, wait, I actually don’t have that money in my bank account yet.” So it only allowed them to work with the data that is actually there, the money that is actually in their account. So it’s a big change from traditional budgeting. But I think for our clientele, that works out really well. And you can then go in and set your categorization. It does remember. It’s pretty intuitive. We haven’t had any data go missing, which has been fantastic, because that was a huge pain point.
Michael: And ultimately, is this still automating data flows and categorization, or are you just pulling bank accounts and then categorizing where you’re spending your money, but at least once you tell it where it went, it does it consistently?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s typically that.
Michael: What’s the actual tech flow?
Ryan: Once you tell it where it’s going, it does it consistently. And then you can budget the amount of money that you actually have versus a future amount. And then what we do with clients, for the majority of them, they don’t need a ton of help in this, I would say. Not a majority, maybe half of them don’t need monthly help, where we’re going in and…they don’t have issues with saving. They’re able to pay all their bills, whatever it may be. And so we’re asking them to click three buttons to export it and to drop it into our Google Drive.
And then we combine a net worth statement plus showing them exactly where their money went. And then we can show them how they’re doing it along with their peers. Because remember, we work with 140-some-odd households of physicians. So we take the data, make it all percentages. Everyone’s got the same budget categories. You might have subcategories that are different, but the same high-level categories are there. And then we’re able to send them out and say, “Hey, look, the average physician that we work with spends 28% of their take-home pay to debt, you’re spending 22%.” Or childcare, right, the average person spending X percentage, you’re spending Y. And that’s really eye-opening and has changed a lot of behavior with clients when they can see across the board physician couples that have kids, “This is what they’re spending? Oh, wow, that is quite eye-opening. We were double that,” let’s say.
Michael: And you’re comparing that across your client base? On an anonymous basis, but you’re showing them what they’re spending relative to the average of your clients?
Ryan: Yes. Yeah, how else would I get the data if it were physicians in general, right? But with our size and having the specific niche, that is a big value-add to them, because now they can see truly how their peers are without having to see obviously names or anything like that. Everything is just, hey, we just take a percentage and just say…it doesn’t have any other detail other than that. But we show them in a bar chart like, “This is what you spent this month. This is what your peers spent. This is what they spent this quarter. This is what you spent. This is what you spent last year, this is what they spent.” And they can see percentage-wise how they’re spending in relation to other families.
So when we talk about their goals, we can have a better discussion around, “Well, your goals are to tell us you wanted to do more in travel. But in reality, you’re spending 8% of your take-home pay in Amazon, and you’re only spending a fraction of that in travel, we’re misaligned. How can we get back in alignment? What can we do to not have you spend so much on Amazon?” And Amazon legitimately has its own category, because everyone spends so much money there. So it’s…
Michael: There’s nothing like just clicking a button and having something show up at your house. It’s a glorious thing.
Ryan: Right? You spend the money, you push a button and like, “Ooh, I got something.” And then in San Diego, pre-pandemic, it was here in two hours. There’s like a two-hour window. It’s crazy what they were doing. So a lot of clients have that issue. They’re busy, they’re working, whatever, they order a ton on Amazon. And when we can come back and break out this analysis for them and show them, and this is why I think we charge what we charge, because this isn’t like you’re going to meet with us once or twice a year. We’re helping you fix behaviors. We’re coaches and accountability partners, in addition to advisors. And there’s a lot of work that we’re putting in with clients and a lot of face time that we’re putting in with clients to do this.
Michael: But I am struck, it sounds like by and large, intensive in the first year, and then essentially a quarterly meeting structure thereafter via Zoom? That’s the anchor point of the service model?
Ryan: Yeah. And we tell them, obviously, reach out with any questions. We are proactive in our communication. And we get a lot of people that do send us emails, that we use a service called Loom, L-O-O-M. I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with it. But it allows you to like record your screen and a little bubble of your video, or it could be all of your video. And we use that to respond back to a lot of client questions. So we’re hoping that we’re engaging them more by seeing a video of us or being able to share a screen and help them specifically with something.
Michael: And how many clients now are in the business?
Ryan: I think we’re at 142 clients.
Michael: Which is striking to me overall; you were 8 clients in 2016, 20 clients in 2017, yadda yadda yadda, and 2 and a half years later, 142 clients. That’s kind of a hockey stick leap.
Ryan: Yeah, it was a really big change, and it was really hard to manage the growth. We work a lot. We truly do work a lot. We had 59 clients that joined us last year. And as we’re recording this, which I don’t know if this ruins it for you not, Michael, but we’re at April 19th recording this and we’ve brought on 36 physician families this year.
Michael: Thirty-six new clients in three and a half, almost four months.
Michael: And all just driving on, this is the compounding that starts happening because you focused into saying, “We’re just all in on physicians.” The website says it, the podcast says it, the community says it. When we immerse into them, they’re showing up.
Ryan: Yeah. We just do absolutely as much as we can for not only the people who don’t pay that we want to help, but the people that do pay, we help them absolutely as much as we can. And holding different hours, like, we’re available when they are. That’s a huge convenience for them, that as we go in and…at the beginning, you were kind of like, “Oh, man, how do they…why would someone pay $500?” Or, “Hey, that’s just quite a bit of money to pay.”
But if you look at everything that we’re doing and the amount of face time that we have and the amount of flexibility that we’re giving them, and the fact that we do only work with physicians and we know their pain points, sometimes I feel like it’s cheap and what we’re doing.
Michael: And I am struck, though, because I feel like this question comes up a lot when talking about this model, like, you don’t have issues of, you’re charging me monthly. You’re charging me $500 a month or more and we’re not meeting monthly.
Ryan: Every once in a while we get someone that’s like, “Hey, we haven’t met this month. What’s going on?” It’s like, “Well, do you have something that you’d like to meet on?” Just because we’re meeting quarterly doesn’t mean that they couldn’t book a call for 15 minutes. We call them quick consults. And if you have something going on, let’s meet. The door is open.
We typically are telling them upfront, “This is the way we work together, five meetings upfront, quarterly calls. If things come up and you send us an email and it’s a question that we need to talk with you on, we’re going to send you back and say, ‘Book a call as quick as you can. We want to go over this.'” So we’re okay meeting them more than that if that’s the case. But, again, it really depends on the clientele.
Michael: But for most people, their lives don’t actually change so much they have weighty financial issues every month, 12 months of the year.
Ryan: No, not necessarily, but they are implementing big financial changes all the time, right? Because we’re looking at people who have nothing put in place. They have no estate planning. They have basically…maybe sometimes they’ve never even started an investment account, they’re just sitting with $300,000 in cash in the bank, because they don’t know what to do.
They have no disability, no term coverage. They haven’t even signed up for their employer plans yet. It really just depends. I had someone, Michael, it gives me kind of a little anxiety saying it, but they didn’t know their bank password. They just said, “If I never got an email that said I overdrafted, I’m good. I don’t care.” Right?
It depends on who you’re working with. Personal finance is personal, and how much care is needed for that person. And some people need more help. They need more help. They need more one-on-one touchpoints to help them so they don’t go off the rocker and start spending a crazy amount again. And we’re here, and I don’t charge them more. It’s a fixed flat fee.
Michael: And you don’t feel any weirdness of, we’re charging $500 a month for people that have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt?
Ryan: Not necessarily, because our family had that, right? My wife had $125,000 of debt by the time we left Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Because we knew she wasn’t going to work for at least several years for a 501(c)(3), it ballooned to like $180,000. We’ve been there. I look at it as though they’re buying a business, right? The business is just in their head with great cash flow that they’re doing.
But no, if I had an issue with student debt, if we weren’t providing any value, then I wouldn’t have any clients. Because pretty much every single client has student debt, but they’re making good money and they need a lot of help, and they don’t know necessarily where to go. And part of what we’re doing is dissecting that student debt.
I care to admit on air how much I know about student debt, but it’s way too much. I wish it was a lot easier and that people didn’t have to pay people for their expertise and advice in taking out debt and to understand what they took out. But the repayment plans are difficult to understand, and filling out the paperwork, and just knowing, hey, should I file jointly or file separately? Because I’ve got debt and my spouse doesn’t or does, and how that interacts. It’s a difficult process.
But no, if we didn’t charge anyone or work with anyone that had student debt, we wouldn’t have any clientele, and this segment of the population would not receive any benefit from financial planning, because most of them, upwards of 10, we have clients that finished training 12, 13 years ago and still have debt. And they weren’t actually doing anything with it, and now they’re in a bigger hole than if they would have worked with us if we were around 10 years ago to do that. So I know there’s a huge value. We’ve saved clients tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars on their student debt.
Just recently with the new laws that were passed, March 13, 2020, most people don’t know that it’s retroactive from when they put it in. So if your clients have made any payments since March 13th, call the servicer, get the refund. I know that we’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars for clients that had that. And we reached out and said, “Hey, heads-up, you’ve made a payment on auto with…pay on the 20th, go call them, get it back.” “Well, thanks.” That was 2,000 bucks they didn’t have. There’s just little things like that that we can provide benefit for. So, no, I don’t feel bad charging when they have student debt.
The Surprises and Low Points In Ryan’s Journey And Why He Regrets Not Focusing On A Niche Early On [01:44:53]
Michael: What surprised you the most about trying to build your own advisory business?
Ryan: How hard it was. How hard it was. My family is a bunch of entrepreneurs. I was the first one to graduate college, much less grad school, on both sides of the family. And the parents and uncles and aunts, they all run really successful businesses and are amazing entrepreneurs. And so I was like, “Oh, I got this. My mom could do this, my uncle could do that. I can do this.” And just knowing how hard it is to start with no book of business. And yeah, we had some leeway in terms of savings that allowed us to do this but…and it is very tough to start a practice and to know who you’re working with and what you’re doing. Yeah, that was probably my only big complaint on XY’s side, Michael, was how easy it made it seem versus the reality of starting it and doing it and living and breathing it. And you have to be truly committed to growing your practice and know that it’s going to take years to get there. And that was the hardest part.
Michael: Yeah. Well, I still try to warn people as much as I can, if you’re going on your own, like, it takes three years. It takes three years usually before you really feel like you’re getting going and getting traction. I think even in the context of your business, like 8 clients in year 1, 12 more in year 2 to get up to 20, you made the shift in year 3, and I imagine really got the pipeline starting to go. But it sounds like it wasn’t really until after the third year that you got to the 59 clients last year, annualizing at 100 this year. Even in your case, it took three years before the momentum was really there.
Ryan: Yeah, it was really three full years. And I work on average probably 75 hours a week. So it took three full years of doing that for it really to come out. Now, granted, I didn’t come with a book of business. I didn’t have any contacts that I could reach out to. I’d worked at other places, but they were working with people that were 60 at the youngest. And most of them were 70 and 80 that had million-dollar minimums. They weren’t the clientele that I wanted to work with. I loved working with those people, they were fantastic people, but just wasn’t what I was excited to get up and do every day and to talk to every day. So it wasn’t like I started with anything. And that piece of starting from nothing to, “Hey, this actually can work,” that took three full years to go, “Wow, I actually made it. Like, this is an actual business now.”
Michael: So what was the low point for you in this journey?
Ryan: I think it was in the beginning parts of, “Hey, this is hard. This is what I want to put together. This is what I’m doing.” And me constantly going, “Maybe I shouldn’t do that. No, I don’t want to be out there. I’m afraid to talk in front of people. I don’t want to go and make a local practice and building up centers of influence in that piece,” or, “Hey, I want to start a podcast. Well, what if people actually listen?” Right? What if people actually listen to the podcast? Now all of a sudden I’ve got an obligation to people listening to me. And what if there’s a lot of them? What if there’s 100 people? Michael, this is seriously how it went, “What if there’s 100 people listening to me?” That’s a lot of people. Like, if I had a room full of 100 people, that’s a lot of people. I’m pretty introverted, that piece was really hard for me to get through. And then I realized that I’m probably talking to that many physicians already that aren’t clients and that haven’t become clients, that are just friends of ours through med school and residency and fellowship, and they’re all asking me questions on how to do certain things. That’s when I was like, “I really have to just get out of my own way.” And I think that was the hardest thing, was to push fear aside, and to just be myself, and to just get the work done, but to not get in my own way.
Michael: Anything you wish you’d done substantively differently? Like, is there stuff that you know now that you wish you could go back and tell you from five years ago to make this easier?
Ryan: Yeah, I would have started the podcast earlier. And I would have actually understood how email marketing works. From a marketing standpoint, those two things would have been game-changer. I’m still learning stuff about podcasting and about marketing and about the way that I handle the business. Honestly, I wouldn’t have started this by myself. I think I like having someone to ping ideas off of, and I absolutely love Kayse. I’m so thankful that I have her as part of it. Now Dan’s been working with us full-time, and another person that we can bounce ideas off of. But it’s a lonely business if you’re by yourself. It’s a very lonely business.
Even though you’re talking to people all day, every day, you can’t talk to them about, “Hey, I’m exhausted. I worked 14 hours yesterday putting together plans, and now, can you take this call for me because I’m tired?” or something, just having someone else to do it. So I wouldn’t have started this again by myself. It sounds weird, but I like having a partner in this. And I think I wouldn’t have wanted to embark on this journey by myself. I would have done it again. If I was to do it again, I would do it with someone.
Michael: How would you have found them?
Ryan: That’s a hard one, right? I got lucky that an XY Planning member, which I won’t say his full name, but so thankful of Joe, he introduced me to Kayse and we’d struck up conversations. She ended up flying out to meet with me, and then it was a great fit. I talked to other people prior to that. I would say you’d have to join some organizations where likeminded people are around to be able to do that. And before you launch your firm, I’m assuming you’re also working in the industry. I would use lunch and networking, and obviously virtual calls at this point, but I’d be networking constantly. If you want to start your own thing and you potentially might want a partner, I would start as early as you can in the planning of that.
To me, just being by myself for a few years and now with a partner for a few years, I could not imagine going back to being by myself. What I didn’t realize during that time is how actually lonely it was creating a practice and doing all these things and not having someone to help with workload and help with bouncing ideas off of. And I launched in…it was like, you called it the Spring Launcher group from XY Planning Network with a couple guys, Mike and Patrick and Tim. And I still meet with them every week, five years or whatever later. I’m surprised they still hang out with me. But so thankful that I have those people. And that kind of helped bridge the gap, but a partner is very different than a weekly mastermind of a group that we get together.
Michael: Well, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve always pounded the table in general of like, from early in your career, join professional associations, whether it’s FPA or NAPFA or whatever your organization of choice is. And don’t just be a member but get involved, get active with the organization. Because it’s how you build your professional network of people that may or may not someday be the person that you go out on your own with, or form of business with, or form a partnership with, or merge with. We get there lots of different ways. But the only thing I know for certain is that if you never get out there to build your network, you almost certainly are not going to find that person.
Ryan: Yeah. And I was lucky that… I told you before we got on like there’s pros and cons to XY and being a member, and this is definitely one of the big pros, is that I was able to find someone that I meshed with personally, that we saw eye-to-eye on the business level, that we have different strengths and different weaknesses, which is really helpful. We both can’t be good at the same thing and bad at the same thing. So I was just…I was really lucky that I was a part of that network that then allowed me to network in and find my partner.
Michael: And what comes next for you?
Ryan: Honestly, it’s saying no to more things. I’m like, “Hey, I could try this,” and, “Hey, I could…let’s test this. And let’s see if we can help people in this way or that way.” And I think a lot of what I have been trying is working. Some stuff does not work. Obviously, we’ve talked about stuff that does work, but there’s plenty of things that don’t work, whether it’s to help people or just mentally for me, like a daily podcast. I know that was helping people, that did not work for me. That was very, very, very tough for me to do. But I think it’s just being more focused on providing the best advice that we can give, the best service that we can give, or we’re constantly trying to figure out how we can do things better and leverage things better.
We are using Google Sheets to really manage a lot of our stuff. We don’t have a traditional CRM. We’re not using a traditional financial planning portal. We’ve built this out in-house. And one of the things we just implemented was being able to call in with this like voicemail feature, where you just click a button and it…it uses the software SpeakPipe, in case, Michael, you ever had people you wanted to have calling for the show or whatever. And they just push the button, it pops up around their computer, they record their answer, they push “submit,” and it goes right to us. And then our script kind of pulls it into that Google Sheet that is their dashboard. And that has been a huge, huge hit with clients. We’re allowing them to reach out to us more frequently and to get better quality advice from us before waiting even for that quick consult in two weeks. It allows us to get to that answer much quicker.
How Ryan Defines Success For Himself [01:55:09]
Michael: So as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success. And one of the themes that always comes up is even just the word “success” means different things to different people. So you’re on this incredible growth trajectory curve now, 140-plus clients, most of which came in the past 2 years, you may double in the next 12 to 18 months at this pace. So you’re certainly on the successful and rapidly growing business track, but how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Ryan: Doing what I love, being excited to go to work, and being able to work in my sandals. Simple as that. Like, just working with physicians…
Michael: Talking like a true San Diegan.
Ryan: Yeah, there you go, man. I work out of my house. We built…it sounds terrible when I say it on air, but we built a shed in the back. It’s 10 feet by 12 feet by 10 feet tall. And I made it actually to be like a podcast studio. So it’s got double drywall. It’s got a window and a door and the usual things. But I work out here from my house. And being able to spend time with my kids and do pickups and drop-offs during normal times, and be able to help physicians across the country that are just like my wife and my own family. And then to be able to wear sandals at work is…that’s it. That’s living the dream right there. It doesn’t matter necessarily how many downloads or how many people in my groups or all that. Those are all great that we’re helping people, but I get more joy out of helping one physician when they email and say, “Thank you so much, you’ve changed XYZ for me.” Because I know that I just not only impacted them, but the thousands of patients that they’re going to impact. And that to me is fantastic. So those are kind of the ways I view success.
Michael: I love it. I love it. I guess pandemic mode has just forced everybody else to live your reality of working from home and being able to work in sandals.
Ryan: Yeah, bummer, huh? I think it’s fantastic. And we’ve had people that have solely chosen to work with us because we were virtual. We’ve also, though, on the flip side, like, not all rainbows and sunshine, people have chosen not to work with us because we didn’t have a local presence. They wanted to literally shake the hand of their advisor. And those people aren’t great fits, and that’s okay. And those are the ones or some of the ones that we tell, “Hey, I can’t be of service to you, but I will find someone.” And usually, I go on the network on XY and find someone that can help them and make the email introduction.
Michael: Well, awesome. Thank you so much, Ryan, for joining us on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Ryan: Oh, excited to be here. It’s been one of my life goals, Michael. So I appreciate you having me on and let me talk about some of the fun nerdy stuff that we’re doing.
Michael: Absolutely. My pleasure.